When I wrote these comments yesterday before speaking at the Hillsborough County Public Schools board meeting, I was thinking about MLK’s quote “it is always the right time to do the right thing.” Though I didn’t include it in my words, it is fitting to reflect on this with today being the 50th anniversary of his untimely death.
Good afternoon, board members, Superintendent Eakins, and staff. About half way through my first fifteen years of teaching, I took the clock off my classroom wall. Most kids cannot read analog clocks, so it eliminated questions such as “what time is it?”; “how much longer until the bell rings?”; and “when do we get out of here?” Instead, I replaced the clock with a sign on the wall that simply said “the time is NOW” with the word NOW capitalized and underlined.
As cliché as it may be, there’s no time like the present. In fact, the only time we can take charge and enact change is always in the here and now. There is no point in grumbling about the past or hand-wringing in worry about the future—both are futile and only consume precious time and energy.
So while the moment is upon us, let’s talk about what we must all pull together to do. First, I would ask that district leadership decide to return to the table so we can bring a long overdue conclusion to this school year’s bargaining session before we have to go through impasse. Well over 20,000 education professionals have worked into the fourth quarter of the 2017-18 school year without receiving their earned year of experience and contractually obligated step movement on the pay scale.
Second, and more importantly for our students and schools here in Hillsborough county, we must push for a half penny sales-tax referendum. Whether citizen-led or district-led, we need to educate our community about how Tallahassee continues to starve us financially. Whether needlessly rolling back already low tax rates or outwardly supporting charters with nearly triple the PECO money, the Florida Legislature is unwilling to help. I believe, however, that the citizens of Hillsborough County will support us.
Last year Hillsborough County collected nearly $27 BILLION dollars in taxable receipts. If that were to remain steady, a one half penny sales tax would generate almost $133 MILLION per year. While the money would be limited to capital expense projects, think about how much good we could do for our students in our schools. In one year alone we could raise enough money to buy more buses, change out multiple HVAC systems, replace roofs, repaint numerous schools, add increased safety and security measures to our existing schools, AND still have enough money to build the new TTT high school as well as rebuild Lee Magnet. Beyond the physical structures themselves, the money may also be used to upgrade technology, purchase land, or servicing indebtedness from previous building projects.
We know more growth is coming to Hillsborough County. We know that new schools must be built and our nearly all of our existing schools need many, many repairs that we currently cannot afford. Now is the time to begin educating the rest of our county about the needs of our students. Now is the time to put a referendum before the voters. Now is the time to invest in our students and their future.
But perhaps more importantly, now is the time to take a stand against Tallahassee. There has been a revolution in public education taking place. It started in West Virginia, spread to Oklahoma, and is now taking off in Arizona and Kentucky. When will everyone in Florida stand up? This should not be about teachers striking. It should be about everyone who has a hand in Public Ed working together to force the Legislature to properly fund our needs. Think about these numbers for a moment: the national average of per-pupil spending is $11,392. In West Virginia, where these protests began, they spend $11,359; Oklahoma spends $8,082; Kentucky spends $9,630; and the only state that spends less than us is Arizona at $7,208. Remind me again how our $7,401 this year is “unprecedented, record funding”?
Now is the time for us to band together and demand a special session. After the Parkland shooting and Governor’s Scott promise of increased spending, Superintendent Eakins as well as other superintendents asked that the $400 million be added to the current spending levels; instead, the Legislature shuffled money around and left us with 47 cents. This cannot be ignored or accepted. It is my hope that all superintendents, along with all school board members, will stand with all teachers and ESPs and tell the Legislature to minimally provide the $400 million from the state’s $3.3 billion dollar cash pile. Even better, however, would be to hold the entire state’s accountability regime hostage by having all 67 districts not administer state tests until the Legislature makes a meaningful investment in public education. The time is now. The moment is here. And we must impress upon elected leaders that this sorely needed investment is for our children and their future.